Bamboo Housing, built by Mr Mohd Ramadhan Abdul Hamid

Currently 70 different bamboo species have been identified in Malaysia. The Forest Research Institute of Malaysia’s (FRIM)  Bambusetum, located on their main campus in Kepong, Selangor, has a collection of 45 bamboo species. There are about 16 bamboo species which can be used commercially; three species in particular, Gigantochloa scortechiniiDendrocalamus asper and G. albociliata, play a major role in the production of strip-based flooring, charcoal and edible shoots, respectively.

As well as this, bamboo has found further applications in furniture, handicrafts, construction, and in agriculture as baskets to transport vegetables.

Twenty foot long MYScrim-bambuseae billet

One advanced bamboo product researched by FRIM is bamboo scrimber, a type of engineered lumber. Codenamed ‘MYScrim-bambuseae’, this product is the result of a collaboration between FRIM and Timtek LLC, an American company which owns the worldwide patent on scrimber technology. MYScrim-bambuseae was evaluated and found suitable as a construction materials for making beams, columns, windows, door frames, and flooring.

Besides the production of unique lumber, FRIM has also been developing innovative products such as furniture. FRIM has received awards for some of these products  – including the Gold Award and Special Creative and Innovative Products Award for its Rotary Veneer Bamboo Technology at the Korea World Invention and Innovation Competition 2015.

Local usage of bamboo for building

Malaysia’s climate and fertile soil provides an excellent opportunity for the growth of tropical bamboos and the promotion of industrial plantations and value chain development. Even though this sector is currently underdeveloped, entrepreneurs such as Mr Mohd Ramadhan Abdul Hamid have proven that local bamboo can be used in business.

Mr. Ramadhan has been using bamboo to build Kuala Lumpur’s famous PlayHouse – designed by architect Eleena Jamil – as well as a unique bamboo village near Kuala Lumpur (main picture).

Mr. Ramadhan uses bamboo from the local forest, which he harvests during the dry season.  However, changing weather conditions are impacting the harvesting of bamboo raw material. Although the rainy season normally begins around May each year, in 2017 it started in January. As bamboo should not be harvested during rainy season, Mr. Ramadhan’s last harvest took place in December 2016, leaving him unexpectedly short on raw material supply. This lack also affects a number of bamboo resource-dependent communities.

Current challenges facing Malaysia’s bamboo industry

Aside from the problems posed by changing weather conditions, there are other challenges which affect Malaysia’s potential to develop its bamboo industry.  According to FRIM, only a few bamboo plantations in Malaysia are owned by small and private enterprises. The majority of bamboo resources can be found in Malaysia’s natural forest. The harvesting of bamboo and other wood requires a government-issued permit.  Each permit costs MYR 500 (USD 115) and is valid for one year; the amount of forest resources that can be taken in that time is not determined. In order to commercialise bamboo products, Malaysia should therefore establish specific and protected bamboo plantations and policies outside its already given natural forest. Bamboo plantations such as those found in Anji province, China, serve as examples for Malaysia to follow.

Even though there are existing research and knowledge which highlight the importance and usages of bamboo for livelihood, challenges remain in crucial investments. Barriers for investments in the bamboo industry include a lack of product variety, lack of raw materials and lack of properly linked supply chains.

To overcome these barriers, additional foreign bamboo products, such as bamboo fibre, can be promoted in the domestic market.  This type of promotion may increase local demand for new and further innovative products, thereby encouraging domestic and foreign investments. Investments can be used for the development of necessary value chains and bamboo plantations. Malaysia is already well known for its palm plantations; in future, it could couple a bamboo plantation programme with existing palm plantation programs such as those owned by FELDA and FELCRA.

Current opportunities

Malaysia has already made efforts to improve its bamboo development. In February, 2017, FRIM signed a three-year long Memorandum of Understanding with Kanger International Bhd to establish a high-end bamboo value industry. Aside from the development of new value products, cooperation also includes the establishment of a commercialised bamboo plantation which could address the challenge of raw material supply. Kanger’s established international sales network may provide additional benefit.

Bamboo does not equal bamboo

It is important to note that even though there are already a variety of bamboo products worldwide, specifically in China, not all of them can be duplicated in Malaysia. Sympodial bamboo, which is commonly found in Malaysia, differs to the  monopodial bamboo common to China. Products such as toothpicks are therefore difficult to duplicate with Malaysian sympodial bamboo.  At the same time, this difference may provide room for innovation and could allow Malaysia to develop further unique tropical bamboo products such as tropical bamboo flooring.

Article by: Ann-Cathrin Joest

Article created with contributions from –

  • Dr WanTarmeze Wan Ariffin, FRIM
  • Dr Hamdan Husain, FRIM
  • Dr Mohd Khairun Anwar Hj Uyup, FRIM
  • Mrs Yanti Abdul Kadir, FRIM
  • Mr Mohd Ramadhan Abdul Hamid

Publishing Date: June 9, 2017

  • Mr Mohd Ramadhan Abdul Hamid

(Article published by INBAR.  )